How Snaffle bits work

Whether you ride English or Western, you have probably started riding your horses or riding a school horse using a Snaffle bit. These bits sit comfortably in the horse’s mouth in the rear opening between the upper and lower teeth and can be used with a rubber lip guard to prevent pinching the lips.

What is a snaffle bit?

A snaffle bit is a common type of bit that is gentle on the horse’s mouth. Snaffle bits consist of a single bar or two or three pieces hinged between large rings on each side and make it easier for the rider to communicate with their horse and are often used to train young horses and beginning riders.

Even if you don’t start with a bit, you will most likely ride with a bit at some point in your horsemanship training. If you know how the bit works, you will be able to develop effective rein aids and prevent your horse from being ineffective or too hard in the mouth.

Although the basic function of most bits is the same, it is sometimes necessary to try several different bits to find one that your horse is comfortable with. Choosing the right bit, even if you opt for a bridle, can sometimes take some time.

Snaffle Bit basics

There are many different types of whelks. The basic structure is the same in all of them, and the basic action in the horse’s mouth is similar, with some subtle changes. The fleshing bit is considered a relatively soft bit. If wire wrap or other similar variations are added to the bit, it can be much more difficult.

What happens when the reins are “pulled”?

Pulling on the reins puts pressure on the area of the gums that has no teeth, called the buccal recess. This gap is located between the front teeth, which cut the grass, and the back teeth, which grind the food. A well-fitted bit sits comfortably in this gap, just in front of the grinding teeth. Occasionally, a horse has trouble carrying the bit comfortably and small teeth, called wolf teeth, may have to be removed or an adapted bit created.

How The Horse Responds to Cues

With the single bit, pressure is applied to the bars in the horse’s mouth. No pressure is applied to any other part of the horse’s head and no leverage comes into play as with a bridled bit. If pulled back, the horse will understand that equal pressure on both sides of the mouth means stop. A pull to the right, applying pressure to the right bar, means he turns right, and a pull to the left, of course, means he turns left.

As you learn to perfect your rein aids and combine them with your seat and thigh aids, you will learn to indicate to your horse such things as thigh turns, half passes, rein changes, gait changes, and other more advanced riding skills. While at first you may be limited to “pulling” on the reins, in a short time you will learn to give much more subtle signals that can be felt by the horse but are almost imperceptible to the average observer.

The Function Of Bit Rings

The rings of a bit can be D-shaped or have a small piece that protrudes up or down, as in a full cheek bit or a Fulmer bit. The rings may slide or be firmly attached to the mouthpiece. Shanks, which are perpendicular to the mouthpiece on full-cheek and driving bits, prevent the bit from sliding down the horse’s mouth. Large leather or rubber grommets can also be used to prevent the bit from rubbing against the sides of the horse’s mouth. The rings can influence the weight of the bit and prevent the bit from being dragged down the side of the horse’s mouth.

How Mouthpieces Differ

Bits with hinged mouthpieces have a nutcracker effect, while straight mouthpieces distribute pressure evenly across the tongue and bars. An egg butt bit has oval rings, and the mouthpiece gets thicker as it gets closer to the rings. These bits are among the softest because they distribute the pressure of the rein over a larger area of the bars. In general, the thicker the mouthpiece, the softer the bit. A horse with a large tongue or deep palate may be uncomfortable in a bit with a thick mouthpiece.

The French limb is considered the softest of the jointed parts. The Dr. Bristol bit, while similar, is much more severe because the plate in the center of the bit is in constant contact with the tongue, either flat or angled, depending on how the rider attaches the bit to the bridle.


The bit can be hollow to reduce weight, flexible, twisted, connected with one or more links, wedged or rolled, square or oval, or any combination of shapes and connections. Soft mouthpieces are the same width from end to end. Wire bits are quite thin and wire-wrapped bits increase the sharpness of pressure on the mouthpieces.

All of these variations are designed to improve rein aids. Different metals and materials can be used to get the horse to accept the bit for its taste or to encourage salivation. Copper, sweet iron, vulcanite, and other synthetic materials can be used. Some bits often used to teach a young horse to hold the bit are flavored.

The Versatility of Snaffle Bits

Snaffle bits are often the first bit a horse wears. Many are ridden with a snaffle bit their entire lives.

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